What is housing discrimination?

Housing discrimination is deeply pervasive, both nationally and in New York specifically.

There are federal, state, and local fair housing laws that prohibit discrimination based on protected characteristics in the rental, sale, financing and insuring of housing.

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate in housing based on race, religion, color, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), national origin, family status, and disability.

The New York State Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination based on the federally protected characteristics as well as age, marital status, military status, lawful source of income, and status as victim of domestic violence, sex offenses, and stalking.

The New York City Human Rights Law includes the federal and state’s protected characteristics, and prohibits discrimination based on domestic partnership status, immigration/citizenship status, and lawful occupation,.

Other localities in the New York region have fair housing laws that prohibit discrimination in housing based on additional protected characteristics. Please contact the FHJC about protections available under these local laws.

Read more about what conduct is prohibited by fair housing laws and what remedies are available for fair housing complaints. 

What type of housing is covered by fair housing laws?

Most housing, whether it is privately or publicly owned, is covered by fair housing laws, but there are a few narrow exemptions that vary depending on the specific law and facts of each situation. This means that housing not covered by one fair housing law may be covered by another. If you think that you may have been discriminated against, contact the FHJC and we can help you evaluate whether the housing involved in your situation is covered by a federal, state, or local fair housing law.

What can I do if I think I have been discriminated against?

If you have encountered discriminatory housing practices, contact the FHJC to exercise your fair housing rights. The Fair Housing Justice Center assists individuals and organizations with allegations of illegal housing discrimination. Our intake personnel can help sort out the facts, interview witnesses, review documents, and counsel individuals on their rights and options under the fair housing laws.

In some instances, the FHJC may be able to gather additional information by conducting a fair housing testing investigation. Sometimes, testing evidence enables a victim of discrimination to meet his/her burden of proving that unlawful discrimination occurred.

The FHJC can also assist with referral to government enforcement agencies and to cooperating attorneys on a case-by-case basis.

These services are provided by the FHJC free of charge and without regard to household income.

To report discrimination, please call 212-400-8201 or fill out our form. **Please note that in-person appointments with the FHJC are by appointment only.

How will I know if I am being unlawfully discriminated against?

Some housing discrimination is blatant and obvious. But housing discrimination can also be very subtle and difficult to detect. And not all “unfair” treatment constitutes illegal housing discrimination under fair housing laws.

If you suspect that you that you may have been discriminated against, contact the FHJC. Let our intake personnel help you sort through the facts. In some instances, we may be able to gather additional information by conducting a fair housing testing investigation.

What is fair housing testing?

Fair housing testing is one of the most effective tools used to enforce fair housing laws. Our innovative testing program, Acting for Justice, hires professional actors as “testers” to pose as ordinary home seekers to observe the business practices of housing providers and others in order to determine if housing providers are complying with fair housing laws. Sometimes, testing evidence enables a victim of discrimination to meet his/her burden of proving that unlawful discrimination occurred. Testing can also be used to identify more subtle forms of housing discrimination that may be restricting housing opportunities for different populations within a community. Learn more about our testing program.

What if I know housing discrimination is occurring, but it has not personally happened to me?

We all have a responsibility to end illegal housing discrimination and make sure that our communities are open to everyone. Reporting housing discrimination is the first step to ending it. You do not need to personally be the victim of such discrimination to report it. If you have information that illegal discrimination is occurring, please contact the FHJC

The FHJC also accepts anonymous tips from individuals who possess information about possible housing discrimination. If you are a current or former employee of a real estate company, rental management office, coop or condo board, lending institution, or other housing provider and you have information about discriminatory housing practices, we encourage you to contact our office.

Who is eligible for FHJC services and what is FHJC’s service area?

Any individual or organization who wants to report housing discrimination that has occurred in New York City, or in the surrounding areas including Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester County is eligible for FHJC services. FHJC services are free of charge and available regardless of income. Unfortunately, due to limited resources, the FHJC is unable to assist everyone within our service area. However, if we determine that we are unable to provide the type of assistance that is needed, we will refer you to public fair housing enforcement agencies.

What are the penalties for housing discrimination?

Individuals or companies who violate fair housing laws may be ordered to pay compensatory and punitive monetary damages to the victims of discrimination, make housing available, change discriminatory policies and take steps to prevent future discrimination, pay civil fines to a government agency, and pay attorneys fees and court costs. Learn more about what remedies are available for fair housing complaints. 

Why file a housing discrimination complaint?

By exercising your fair housing rights, you can stop housing discrimination, obtain relief from the harm discrimination has caused, and create future policies that expand housing opportunities for others in your community. Your complaint may prevent others from having to endure the insult, humiliation, and harm that typically results from an act of housing discrimination. When you exercise your rights and challenge illegal housing discrimination, you also honor all those who tirelessly struggled, sacrificed, and even died to obtain the legal right to fair housing.

Is housing discrimination still a problem in New York?

Yes, it is. Housing discrimination is deeply pervasive not only in the United States, but in the New York City region. New York City is the third most segregated city for African Americans and the second most segregated city for Latinos and Asian Americans in the United States.* Therefore, the Fair Housing Justice Center works to make the New York City region more open, accessible, and inclusive for all New Yorkers.

Since opening our doors twelve years ago, the FHJC has assisted well over a thousand individuals and organizations to exercise their fair housing; opened up tens of thousands of housing opportunity to populations previously excluded; brought legal challenges that recovered millions in damages and penalties; and influenced local, state, and federal fair housing policy. Learn more here.

Are there specific protections under fair housing laws for people with disabilities?

Yes. Housing providers must agree to make reasonable accommodations to housing rules, policies, practices, or services when such changes are necessary to permit a person with a mental or physical disability equal opportunity to access, use, and enjoy a dwelling unit.

For more information about reasonable accommodation, please read the U.S. Department of Justice and HUD’s Joint Statement on Reasonable Accommodation.

Housing providers must agree to permit physical modifications to a building or dwelling unit when such modifications would permit a person with a disability to access, use, and enjoy a dwelling unit. However, the question of who must pay the cost of the modification depends on which laws cover the situation.

Learn about how the FHJC’s Adele Friedman Housing Accessibility Fund can help finance a reasonable modification.

Also, all multifamily housing designed and constructed after 1991 must comply with accessibility requirements found in the federal Fair Housing Act. For more information on the seven accessibility guidelines for new construction, see http://www.fairhousingfirst.org/

Does FHJC help people find housing?

No. The FHJC does not operate a housing search program or directly assist people to locate housing.

Are there things I can do to avoid being discriminated against when searching for housing?

First of all, many housing providers provide training and work hard to ensure that their agents comply with fair housing laws, so you should not automatically assume that you will encounter housing discrimination. While there is nothing you can do to prevent discrimination from happening, there are some steps that you can take during your housing search to protect yourself in the unfortunate event that you do encounter illegal discrimination:

  1. Save receipts, copies of advertisements or listings, rental applications, correspondence, financing information, and business cards that you accumulate during your search.
  2. Keep a journal or take detailed notes during your search to keep track of the different places and properties you visit, the agents you contact, and the dates when you have contact with agents during your search. The FHJC can also provide you with a copy of our Rental Search Log in English or Spanish so that you can keep track of your housing search.
  3. Whenever you have contact with a housing provider, obtain the name of the person you are speaking with early in the conversation. If discriminatory comments are made or you observe conduct that might suggest unlawful housing discrimination, contact the FHJC as soon as possible.

How can I raise awareness about fair housing and the FHJC in my community?

There are many ways that you can raise awareness about fair housing. The first is to sign up for our mailing list so that you can stay informed about our work in the New York City region. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

The FHJC also offers presentations and workshops on fair housing and specific fair housing issues to civic, religious, educational, and community organizations to raise awareness about fair housing rights. If you are interested in hosting a fair housing workshop in your community or organization, click here.

How can I become an advocate for fair housing??

In order to counteract the effects of past and current discriminatory housing practices and break the cycle of inequality in our metropolitan regions, policies and programs must be explicitly tailored to increase housing choice and expand opportunities for all populations. The FHJC advocates for programs and policies that advance the development of more open, accessible, and inclusive communities. If you are interested in learning more about our policy work and how you can become an advocate for fair housing, click here.

Where can I learn about my fair housing rights?

For more information on your fair housing rights, you can read our Fair Housing Law Factsheet, our Fair Housing Guide, the FHJC Brochure in English or Spanish, or click here.